Ten people convicted of spying for Russia in the United States were immediately deported back to Russia after pleading guilty to conspiracy charges in a New York courtroom on Thursday, reported CNN.com, as well as other major news outlets. Those who have now confessed to spying for Russia include Anna Chapman, Vicky Pelaez, Juan Lazaro, Patricia Mills, Michael Zottoli, Tracey Foley, Donald Heathfield, Mikhail Semenko, Cynthia Murphy, and Richard Murphy.
The 10 convicted Russian spies ingratiated themselves into everyday American life working mundane jobs in accounting, real estate, and other decidedly non-glamorous professions. But, beneath the banality, they led double lives that involved relaying “sensitive” information about the United States back to Moscow.
The term “sensitive” may be used loosely here, as it appears that none of the 10 Russian spies were able to obtain information beyond what any reasonably intelligent person might have been able to find using Google.
In exchange for their return to Russia, the United States is set to receive four Russians who have been imprisoned in Russia for spying on behalf of Western interests. Foxnews.com reported their identities to be that of Alexander Zaporozhsky, Gennady Vasilenko, Sergei Skripal and Igor Sutyagin.
The “spy swap” smacks of something that one might have witnessed in the Cold War, and ironically comes on the heels of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s recent visit to the United States-a trip in which he and President Barack Obama announced a rebooting of US-Russian relations.
While seeming like a throwback to past generations, this most recent Russian spy swap was by no means an unprecedented event. Back in 2001, FBI agent Robert Hansen was arrested for selling secrets to the Russians. Hansen would later be convicted of spying and sentenced to life in prison. His story was popularized in the film Breach, starring Ryan Phillippe, Chris Cooper, and Laura Linney. A summary of major Russian spy cases can be found via a Reuters Timeline.
Prior to the Robert Hansen case, the most noteworthy case on the Reuters list may have been CIA officer Aldrich Ames, who was convicted of spying in 1994 and was also sentenced to life in prison. Unlike this most recent set of 10 Russian spies, the information Aldrich Ames leaked was highly classified and led to the execution of at least 10 sources of US intelligence (Weiner, Johnston, and Lewis; Betrayal: The Story of Aldrich Ames).
Those instances also placed great strain on US/Russia relations, but the information being relayed was far more serious than anything these 10 Russian spies were purported to have learned about the United States. It may be conjectured that the Russian government has been significantly embarrassed by the exposure of a spy ring that failed to access any sensitive information, and that the spy swap now being conducted is, first and foremost, an attempt by the Russians to save face in front of the international community.
“10 Russian Spies Deported after N.Y. Guilty Pleas.” http://www.foxnews.com/us/2010/07/08/russian-spies-deported-ny-guilty-pleas/. Accessed 7/8/2010.
“Expelled Russian Agents En Route to Austria.” http://www.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/07/08/russia.spy.exchange/index.html?hpt=T1. Accessed 7/8/2010.
“Previous US Russia Spy Incidents.” Reuters Timeline. http://in.reuters.com/article/idINIndia-49754720100629. Accessed 7/8/2010.
Breach movie summary. IMDB.com. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0401997/. Accessed 7/8/2010.
Betrayal: The Story of Aldrich Ames. Weiner, Johnston, and Lewis. 1995. Random House: New York, NY. ISBN 0679440505.